How to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Charcoal chimney starters are one of the most valuable pieces of gear to use in an open fire kitchen or camp kitchen. The purpose of a chimney starter is to hold a cluster of charcoal briquettes tightly together so that all of the coals light easily, and heat is equally distributed. This creates a stable and enduring heat source for cooking. While chimney grill starters are primarily used to heat coals for a large outdoor cooking pit, they can also be used as a miniature camp charcoal grill, too. This cooking set up is an ideal option for windy days that could burn through dispersed coals rapidly or for solo-campers, small groups, and folks who like to travel light.

The Traditional Method: How to use a chimney starter to start coals

Use the charcoal starter for the purpose of heating coals, creating a base heat source. Load the chimney with briquettes, then light the coals in various places. The holes provide ventilation and access points for lighters. As the coals catch, their heat will spread. When all the coals have white edges, they are ready to be poured into the fire pit as the base heat source. Hot coals can be left in a pile under a cooking grate or strategically placed below and on top of cast iron cookware. Cooking with charcoal briquettes provides a consistent temperature and usually a longer heat time than cooking over wood flame.

> How to Cook with Wood Charcoal vs. Charcoal Briquettes

Five alternative ways to cook at camp using a charcoal chimney starter

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Roast Food Over The Top With Skewers

Load it and light it just like usual, but instead of pouring out the coals leave them inside to convert the chimney into a minimal grill pit. Skewer hot dogs, kebabs, or mallows to roast over the heat. This creates a very simple camp stove requiring very little clean up.

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Place A Cast Iron Skillet Directly On The Top Of The Chimney

Place a cast iron skillet right over the top to saute veggies or to cook any skillet-based recipe. If the recipe calls for coals placed on top of the lid, simply pour out enough coals to arrange in a circle on the lid before placing the skillet on the chimney. Then use a coal shovel to place coals on the lid. This arrangement is ideal for solo-campers and small groups.

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Place A Skillet Lid Or Flat Pan Directly On The Chimney

Use the cast iron skillet lid as a flat pan for searing meat or cooking a small savory breakfast quickly. The thin cast iron heats quickly when placed so close to hot coals, so the camp chef needs to have all ingredients at the ready.

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Use An Enamel Plate As A Warming Plate

Enamelware plates and cast iron lids can be placed directly over the heat source, making this arrangement a great option for keeping food warm. Food warming is best when the charcoal’s heat is dwindling but still warm. (You don't want to burn the food or overcook it!) Tip: Try this for cooking amazing s'mores with soft chocolate.

Fire Safety Pro Tip: Always use a fire and grill mat below your outdoor cooking pit to avoid scorching the ground, and to catch wind-blown embers. In wilderness areas, pack out ashes and remnants of coals. Be aware of local land regulations regarding camp fires.

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